A Guide to Healthy Cooking Oils

Which are the best fats for your kitchen? How do you use them? How long do they last? Healthy-eating pro Dawna Stone helps you stock your pantry right.

February 19, 2015
coconut oil
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Some plants can be processed to remove their naturally occurring oils, and these fats are often the healthiest cooking oils, since most of them contain high levels of monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to promote heart health, ward off disease, and keep you full and slim.

More from Fitbie: The 4 Best Fats for Your Kitchen 

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Each plant oil has a slightly different flavor and purpose, so your smartest strategy is to keep several types on hand. The following cooking oil recommendations, adapted from The Healthy You Diet by Dawna Stone, will ensure you're ready for any healthy-fat recipe.

Avocado oil: This oil, processed from avocado flesh, has a buttery flavor that makes it a good choice for sautéing, and it also makes delicious salad dressing.

Coconut oil: Although coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is from a plant source and much better for you than animal saturated fats such as butter or lard. Pure (that is, unrefined, sometimes called virgin) coconut oil, made from coconut palm flesh, has become the oil of choice for many cooks. It can be used for sautéing and in baked goods, but it doesn’t have a strong coconut flavor. 

As a saturated fat, it is solid at cool room temperature but will liquefy above 76 degrees Fahrenheit, and this low melting point is one reason it is the base of so many cosmetics that you spread on your skin. Coconut oil contains antioxidants to give it a shelf life of about two years at room temperature; don’t refrigerate it or it may be too hard to use easily. To melt coconut oil, simply place the covered container in a bowl of hot tap water, weigh it down with a plate so it is half submerged, and let it stand for a few minutes. The coconut oil around the edges will melt fairly quickly, and you can pour off the amount needed.

Olive oil, extra-virgin: Olives are grown throughout the Mediterranean (in Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey) and in the warmest areas of California, so there are many different brands that depend on the variety of the olive and where it is grown. It is difficult to recommend a single kind of olive oil because the “best” one is usually a matter of personal taste. 

Extra-virgin olive oil has been minimally refined and is basically olives pressed without any heat or chemicals to extract the oil. You can tell this oil by its green color -- regular (formerly called "pure") olive oil is golden and has been more highly refined.

More from Fitbie: 4 Ways to Eat a More Mediterranean Diet

Peanut oil: Another oil with a high smoke point, peanut oil has a very mild, nutty taste. Look for cold-pressed peanut oil, which indicates that it has been minimally processed. Most supermarket brands are highly refined.

NOTE: Heat and light can rapidly age oils, so store these products in a cool, dark place, where they’ll usually keep for about three months. In fact, some manufacturers even pack their oils in colored glass bottles to diminish exposure to strong light. Oil can be refrigerated for longer storage, but it can turn cloudy and semisolid until it is brought back to room temperature. You can tell rancid oil by its unappetizing aroma and flavor. It can’t be saved, so just toss it and buy a new bottle.

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